1976. Can you remember it?
To me, in my advancing and increasingly befuddled state, 1976 was only a handful of years ago, but you will have to be approaching 50 to have any recollection of it at all. 1976 is now 42 years ago - blimey! Even if you were born well after it, you may well have heard of 1976 because of the summer heatwave that was enjoyed/endured. It was 100 degrees F each and every day from May 1st - August 31st, it didn't rain at all, roads melted, rivers ran dry, reservoirs became vast empty bowls, all the grass died, we were all covered in dust, ice cream ran out, beer ran out, there was a hose pipe ban for four months, we had to queue up at standpipes to get our drinking water... OK, it wasn't quite like that, but that isn't far from the truth. For some reason 1976 stands out as the hot summer to be measured against, although I can remember 1975, 1983 and 2003 having pretty special hot and sunny summers. In fact, in the latter year, the UK's record high temperature was recorded, 38.5C at Brogdale in Kent (August 10th). So although 2003 had the hottest temperatures (and beat the previous highest temperature from 2002, a year which is not even on our radar), 1976 had the longest, most drawn-out and unbroken heat wave on record. I spent great swathes of this time birding at Beddington SF, but wearing shorts and flip flops was not as option, due to the presence of ubiquitous chest high nettles, strangling goose-grass and boggy sludge lagoons - jeans and wellington boots were order of the day, and believe me, when the temperature is in the 90s and you have just fought your way through 200m of rank vegetation to get to a decent wader bed, 'hot and sweaty' somehow doesn't do it justice. Enough of my vague recollections, this is what the Met Office has to say about it:
The spell of hot weather, from mid-June to the end of August included 15 consecutive days where a maximum temperature of 32C or more was recorded somewhere in the UK. It was one of the most prolonged heat waves within living memory. The highest temperature recorded in June 1976 was 35.6 C in Southampton on the 28th. This record, for June, still stands. Whilst 35.9 C, recorded on 3rd in Cheltenham, was the highest July temperature. However what really set the summer of '76 apart was the drought. Below average rainfall was notable from May 1975 to August 1976 resulting in one of the most significant droughts of our climate records and making summer 1976 (June, July, August) the 2nd driest summer on record (dating back to 1910) behind 1995. Parts of the south west went 45 days without any rain in July and August. The hot, dry weather affected domestic water supplies leading to widespread water rationing; many still remember queuing for water at standpipes in the street. As crops failed and food prices subsequently increased, a Drought Act was passed by the government, a Minister for Drought appointed and plans to tanker water in from abroad were discussed. Heath and forest fires broke out in parts of southern England, with 50,000 trees being destroyed in Dorset alone.